Walking is one of the most popular and widely recommended forms of physical activity for people with diabetes. It’s easy, relaxing and can be done practically anywhere. Most important, it’s highly effective at controlling blood glucose levels. Still, there are important things for people with diabetes to consider before taking off.
The Benefits of WalkingBy walking every day, for 30 minutes to an hour, diabetics can reap the following benefits:
- Improved glucose control. Exercise helps muscles absorb blood sugar, preventing it from building up in the bloodstream. This effect can last for hours or even days, but it’s not permanent. That’s why walking regularly is essential for continued blood glucose control.
- Better cardiovascular fitness. Because people with diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease, this is an important benefit.
- Weight control. Regular walking burns calories; this can help control weight, which in turn can reduce health risks.
Getting the Go-ahead from a Health Care ProviderFirst, it’s important for a diabetic to get the OK from a health care provider for any new exercise program to make sure that the patient is fit enough to increase his or her activity levels. A health care specialist can also inform the patient of special precautions to take based on what type of diabetes he or she has. Other factors to consider include medications being taken, one’s current fitness state, glucose levels and other factors.
Walking and Diabetic Foot CareFoot health is particularly important for anyone with diabetes, so the input of a podiatrist may be especially useful if you're considering a walking program. Blisters, abrasions and breaks in the skin of the feet are often hard to detect since foot numbness is one symptom of diabetes. These injuries are slow to heal and prone to infection, since another symptom of diabetes is reduced blood flow in the small blood vessels of the extremities. A podiatrist or other health care specialist can recommend alternative forms of exercise if a foot condition makes walking difficult.
The Importance of ShoesIt’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on walking shoes, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
- The shoes need to fit comfortably, with plenty of room in the toe area. They should not rub at the heel. Some walking shoes include an extra pair of eyelets close to your ankle. Lacing these may help prevent heel friction.
- Walking shoes are different from running shoes. Walking shoes have flatter, broader soles, which help improve balance.
- The staff at a “walking store,” an increasingly popular type of specialty retailer, is usually well trained at fitting walking shoes.
- Don’t forget socks. Cotton socks can bunch and retain moisture. Check out newer synthetic fabrics, such as CoolMax and Dri-Fit, that wick moisture away from the skin.
Starting a Walking ProgramNow that the preliminaries are out of the way, it’s time to get started.
- Begin slowly and easily. Walking just 5 or 10 minutes on the first day is perfectly acceptable if that’s all you can accomplish. The important thing is to not get injured or sore, which could end a walking campaign at the starting line.
- Add 5 or 10 minutes per week. As one continues to improve, aim for 45 minutes to an hour, five to seven days per week. That’s an ideal amount of time for blood glucose maintenance. However, health benefits begin to accrue at just 30 minutes per day.
- Break it up. Several 10- to 15-minute sessions are just as effective as one longer walk.
- Count your steps. During the last few years, pedometers -- small devices that clip to the belt to count steps -- have become popular. They can help track total steps taken on daily walks, or all day long. Recording walking totals can be motivating.
- Find a place to walk. If one’s neighborhood is unsafe, limit walking to daytime, walk in groups or try a nearby school track, community center or shopping mall.
- Always wear a diabetes ID bracelet and carry glucose pills, hard candy or sweet snacks in case blood sugar drops.
- Follow a doctor’s orders regarding when to check blood glucose levels. Diabetics may need to take readings before, after and perhaps even during their exercise routine.
- Be sure to do a foot check after each walking session and check for cuts, abrasions and blisters.
Walking with OthersIt’s often valuable to have a friend join you on walks to help stay motivated, especially through busy periods, bad weather and holidays, when it’s tempting to slack off. In many communities, there are a variety of walking groups -- mall-walkers, stroller-walkers, hikers, race-walkers and groups formed by neighborhoods, religious groups and social clubs.
Check community center bulletin boards, neighborhood newsletters or postings at health clubs to find a local walking group. Enter the phrase “walking clubs” and the name of your city or town into an Internet search engine, and many other options will likely present themselves.
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